As we head into another year, I thought I’d add a few ideas that have been clattering around in my head that just might make Nova Scotia a better place to live.
Some are old, some are new, some could be done tomorrow, others need either money and/or time to implement. I’d like to hear if you think these are things the new Liberal government could look at to improve our economy and the lives of the people in our province.
Finance Minister Diana Whalen must give a clear picture of the state of the provinces finances for those who don’t hold Masters degrees in public finance and accounting. While better than some previous efforts, the latest financial update proved once again that government officials and politicians struggle to communicate public finance, especially regarding the relationship to our debt. The Chronicle Herald’s Bob Howse did an admirable job of outlining this in his opinion piece last August. Surely to God with the battalion of communications staff the province has on the payroll, voters can be given better access and insight to the decision-making process than is now provided.
Nova Scotia should aim to be the best place to open a small business in Canada. According to the CFIB’s latest Nova Scotia Business Barometer®, twenty-five per cent of owners now say the state of their business is ‘bad’ versus only 35 percent who say it is ‘good’. There are a number of battles being waged in this province by small against government. This includes poorly thought changes to Workman’s Comp, an inability to streamline the apprenticeship process or get a handle on workplace safety issues.
High taxes and unnecessary red tape also create an environment that drives small business away. Attracting big employers to set up shop may make great headlines but small business remains the backbone of the provincial economy. Nova Scotia Business Development Program is a good start…promote it aggressively, create a better environment for entrepreneurs and then get the hell out-of-the-way.
Meaningful reductions in the size of the public spending cannot come soon enough. If this is done by eliminating revenue (read: lower taxes) and forcing balanced budgets, then so be it. The Harper government came under great criticism for its reduction of the GST by 2 points, eliminating billions in federal revenue. This left Finance Minister Jim Flaherty with the daunting challenge of balancing a budget without the additional windfall of consumption tax.One can argue the merits of the GST versus other forms of taxation, but in the end it meant there was less cash floating around Ottawa to spend.
Government spending in this province has grown from 6 billion to over 10 billion in the past ten years. Feel better served by government? Unless meaningful measures to restrict spending are enforced, the public sector will continue to balloon.
One small way to adjust this continued siphoning of money from the pockets of people is allowing Atlantic Lottery Corporation to grow a robust off-shore online gambling business and begin the reduction and replacement of localized gambling revenue. While it’s a voluntary tax, it is none-the-less emptying the pockets of Nova Scotians for little or no net benefit.
If we are indeed going to accept that government should profit from gambling, then let those gamblers come from other jurisdictions feed the beast. Constrict local gambling revenues, especially VLTs and allow offshore betting under the ALCs “Responsible Gambling” protocols.
Set defined timelines for the twinning of major highway arteries.The previous government’s efforts at de-politicizing the paving and highway infrastructure growth process was a step in the right direction. If plans are in the works, let the Minister responsible know what’s going on so they can answer direct questions about when work will begin on important arteries throughout the province. Then get the earth movers moving.
Set clear timelines and reporting structures for the creation of a universal medical information system in the province. It is perhaps the most critical piece of the puzzle to cut costs and create greater efficiency in the medicare system. Reducing the number of Health Authorities to cut unnecessary administrative cost is useful, but unless everyone gets on the same page with the transfer of information this restructuring will be a dogs breakfast.
The Department of Community Services requires a significant rethink. As the third largest cost behind Health and Education, Community Services delivers programming that is essential to those in need. Lumping disabilities in with social welfare blurs the line between providing a hand up to those temporarily in need and those who rely of government access to quality of life.
In Saskatchewan, the Brad Wall government has created a disabilities strategy which is actually consulting with those who live with cognitive, intellectual and physical disabilities. They are also separating disabilities initiatives from social welfare to make sure those with challenges are afforded proper housing, care and dignity.The Saskatchewan mantra is to be the best place to live in Canada for people living with disabilities. We should challenge that ideal.
On the really wacky side, what harm could there be in examining the establishment of a freeport or free economic zone in this province. Want to generate tourism traffic and local economic activity in a poor area? Want to attract multinational companies? Giving up a small part of tax revenue would be greatly offset by international traffic and spin-off benefits for surrounding communities. Who knows, maybe it could be in Freeport…mmm, maybe not.
So as we head into 2014, perhaps we can kick the can down the road toward a more prosperous and compassionate Nova Scotia.
What do you think?